Once Upon A Time In Barcelona : The Goal That Changed The Game
In the very top tier of the cavernous Camp Nou stadium, sit a 47 year old man and his 20 year old son. The scoreboard reads Manchester United 0-1 Bayern Munich. The clock shows 90 minutes. Gloom hangs heavy in the balmy Barcelona air.
What seems like miles beneath them, a bleached-blond midfielder in a bright red shirt scurries across to the corner flag. In comes the corner. Out goes the clearance. In comes a scuffed shot. Silence, and the loudest noise you’ve ever heard both at the same time. Arms flailing, fists pumping, bodies crashing against each other in waves of euphoria.
Down below, the bleached-blond one is taking another corner. In it comes. Near post flick. A leg stuck out. Delirium. The men in red are still standing up. They won’t ever sit down again.”
This is how eminent sports journalist and writer Will Tidey had witnessed, the birth of a legend. A tale that went down in history and folklore. Myth realised. No other book that his “Life With Sir Alex” better encaptures the enigma of the moment when an outstretched leg of one certain baby-faced assassin had unlocked euphoria in the red half of Manchester and also millions of teeming red households all over the world.
The goal that changed the face of the English game in front of Europe. Manchester United had already been a force to reckon with domestically and now, they had sent battle cries to the bigwigs of Europe. Their first Champions League victory since the halcyon days of Trinity in 1968, the Red Devils had recaptured the throne. And Old Trafford had found a new name to sing. Ole Ole Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
Manchester United had reached the promised land. From the view of the Bavarians, it was anything but enjoyable. While Big Pete Schmeichel was doing a cartwheel near his goal, Bayern’s players from being within touching distance of glory, were now broken men. The Germans trudged vacantly back to the centre circle, looking like the startled victims of a devastating explosion. The game restarted for the few remaining seconds. Following a few huffs and puffs, referee Pierluigi Collina peeped three times to complete one of the most extraordinary climaxes ever imagined.
ITV commentator Clive Tyldesley was delirious. “History is made and nobody will ever win a European Cup final more dramatically than this.””…Memories are made of this. Forever and a day United fans will ask, “Where did you watch the 1999 European Cup final ? Where did you watch Ollie Solskjaer win it with virtually the last kick of the game ?” And 50,000 or so will be able to say, “I was there”.
Speaking after the game, the legendary Sir Alex said, “My players never give in. You always expect them to be doing something. But this time I thought they were beaten. The team spirit is just unbelievable. Everyone works together and everyone is in this together. They are incredible human beings. You can talk about tactics all you like, but the spirit is unbeatable at times.”
Over the years, the world has been witness to many antiques by the English in Europe. From Aston Villa, to United’s own 1968, to Liverpool’s on and offs to Nottingham’s historic consecutive wins under the legendary Brian Clough to Chelsea’s win over the Bavarians to moving out of sports, even Brexit. The Great Britain has always been able to come up with a surprise or two. However, in the history of the beautiful game, no other game ranks higher in order of impact and legacy, than those 90 minutes in Catalunya.
In winning the trophy, Manchester United became the first English team to be crowned European champions since the Heysel Stadium disaster ban in 1985, which had resulted in a five-year ban of English clubs from UEFA competitions, and also the first team to achieve a unique treble of the Premier League, FA Cup and European Cup in the same season. It was the first time the Treble had been won since PSV Eindhoven in 1988; it would not be won again until Barcelona beat Manchester United in the 2009 UEFA Champions League Final 10 years later, a tournament that would see three out of the four semi-final competitors from England. The Three Lions were roaring themselves hoarse.
Ultimately, it comes down to who wants it more. And United really wanted it that day. For themselves, for their fans, for Manchester, for England. The revolution had only rustled a few leaves and it would be legen-wait for it-dary. “Football, Bloody Hell.”